Kendrick Lamar's New Album May Suck, But Hip-hop Will Survive | a DJBooth Rebbutal
Kendrick Lamar's Album Is Coming.
There are few things certain about the music business, but I'm confident in predicting two events that WILL occur in 2015: Kendrick Lamar will release his second major label studio album, and a large number of critics will crawl out of the dark and musty places that bloggers dwell and declare that the project doesn't hold a candle to 2012's phenomenal "Good Kidd, M.A.A.D. City." As Lucas from DJBooth Puts it, the album has "no tracklist, no art, and no planned date," but that hasn't stopped critics for starting the "Kendrick's Album Sucks" thought pieces already.
In his article "Hol Up: What if Kendrick's New Album Sucks?" Lucas makes the argument that if Kendrick's album flops, the artist himself likely will never recover, and the hip-hop landscape as a whole will be crippled by the after shocks. He comes to the conclusion that it isn't possible in the current game with expectations on Kendrick being what they are for the Good Kidd to drop a crap album and there to be no major blow back. On that last point he may be right, but Lucas makes some errors in his thinking when he claims that Kendrick flopping in 2015 would ruin Lamar himself or the game on the whole. My rebuttal? It doesn't matter much whether or not Kendrick Lamar's new album sucks, and here is why.
Kendrick Lamar Will Survive a Flop.
Lucas's first main point is that Kendrick's career couldn't survive a throw away sophomore album. But look at the example set by other lyrical MCs, and considering Kednrick as an artist, I don't see this result as being very likely.
Kendrick drips passion for rap.
Will Kendrick survive a flop?
Having myself seen Kendrick live several times, spent thousands of hours bumping his catalog from the K.dot days to his most recent releases, and connecting with Lamar's passion for art in some metaphysical hippy dippy way on many occasions, I am confident making another prediction about the rapper's career. No matter what happens with his sophomore release, Kendrick will keep rapping. He loves the art too much to do anything else.
Yes, a flop would change Kendrick, but maybe that change wouldn't be all for the worse. Without the whole "savior of hip-hop" mantle weighing him down, Lamar would be working in a much lower pressure environment, and could devote more time to his craft without the politics of being the "best rapper alive" getting in the way of his art. Plenty of former major sellers have had commercial and critical flops over the course of hip-hop history, but kept rapping at a high level and even honed their craft to a higher level as smaller acts with less industry pressure and more creative freedom. Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots: the list goes on.
If his second album flops, I think it most likely that Kendrick will join this storied list of respected voices that have made missteps, and don't sell what they once did or produce the same kind of "buzz," but put out tremendous material anyhow. Kendrick loves rapping too much and is too good at it to stumble too much from a flop. Worst-case scenario, he will be able to live with some comfort off of GKMC royalties for the rest of his life, and will release gems from time to time as he deems fit. Or he may come back and release another classic on his third attempt: look no further than rap-nerd darling J. Cole for an example of an artist with critically panned work (everybody was pissed when his first dropped...) who went on to release a respected project later in his career (no one is over 2014FHD drive yet...). Either way, Kendrick will keep rapping and his rapping will probably be worth listening to.
Kendrick loves hip-hop too much to let a flop slow him down.
Hip-hop Will Survive a Kendrick Flop.
Lucas goes on to note that, with so much pressure on Kendrick as the perceived messiah of hip-hop, fans won't be able to trust their favorite artists or expect the best from them if Lamar's sophomore flops and breaks a thousand Stan hearts. But, huge as Kendrick is, hip-hop fandom itself is too big to fail at this point, and the game won't change much in the long term if Lamar's new album sucks. Just ask Weezy.
Will Hip-hop survive a Kendrick flop?
Think back to the way you felt when Lil Wayne released Tha Carter III. In a world of boring mainstream rap, Wayne put out a project that was fresh, fun, and big in all the right ways, reviving the idea of a major label blockbuster in the hip-hop blogosphere. And then Wayne went on to put out some bizarre and irrelevant rock music, and a much weaker Carter IV, and it seems somewhat obvious at this point that Weezy isn't going to be releasing another album like Carter III anytime soon. And yet, we still buy blockbuster albums. Disappointing Wayne material hasn't sullied fans of Drake or Em; the kind of situation Lucas describes, where disappointment in one artist transfers to the whole industry, just isn't something that seems to happen in hip-hop like Lucas postulates.
Furthermore, while Kendrick may be tasked with "leading the hip-hop renaissance" in today's game as Lucas notes, a new messiah will surely arise if Kendrick falls. Admittedly, it has been a while since anyone donned the role of "savior of hip-hop" in quite the scale that Kendrick has since GKMC, but hip-hop music always has and always will have "saviors." Hardcore Royce fans were calling him the second coming when he hit the scene; Kendrick doubters today look to Killer Mike or Freddie Gibs or Joey Bada$$ or Action Bronson or any other number of MCs as the messiah who will "save the game." This is just one of hip-hop's peculiar fascinations, and it will continue even if one hero falls. Any of the above MCs may step in to the limelight, or maybe Krit continues to put things together in more accessible ways, or maybe Cole keeps improving, or maybe Cheesy Mac will somehow get even doper and take on the mantle of "hip-hop savior" for 15 minutes.
In any case, if Kendrick falls, someone will take his place. Rap music inspires intense emotional connections between MCs and listeners, and this relationship will continue to produce fans who see MC X or Y as the leader of a new "hip-hop renaissance."
Kendrick is Big; Hip-hop is Bigger.
I have a very schizophrenic relationship with my Kendrick Standom, one week calling him Nas 2.0/Greatest Alive and the next feeling like his music sucks for not having a more progressive message. At this point, I am starting to feel more and more like his album may let me down. The controversy around his Billboard statements about race and society prove that he may not be as in tune with what needs to be said as he once was. And his music will likely suffer as a result. But so what?
Lucas paints a (at times sarcastic) doomsday scenario as the likely "what if" following a potential flop from Kendrick Lamar's second album, but I am confident in predicting one last thing about hip-hop in 2015: no matter what Kendrick does, the game will go on. Yes, his album's reception will have some major ripples throughout the industry. Yes, the artist himself may lose the pedestal we have built for him. But one way or another, hip-hop music is a lot bigger than one phenomenal MC, and the show will go on.